I once saw a quadriplegic man
shoplift over two hundred dollars.
He rolled around the store
in his motorized wheelchair
controlled with his mouth,
and he asked store associates
to place the items he wanted
into sacks hanging from the handles
on his seat back.

Once he had all the things he needed,
he just rolled out the door,
pretending that he forgot to pay,
or he was just going outside
to spit out his chewing gum.

He wanted my pity, acted like a victim,
and truly, he was pitiful.
The air hissed through his trach tube
like that of a deep sea diver.
Repeatedly he asked for sips of water,
which I had to raise to his mouth,
his dry lips searching for the straw
weakly, but somehow hyperbolic,
a display meant for me,
meant to pull at the instinctual strings
of my inherent humanity,
that part of the self that cringes
at the mere thought of suffering.

He wore a faded and stained t-shirt,
adorned with some logo
for an insurance company,
black sweatpants cut off at the knee,
threadbare and tattered,
covered in crusted and unnameable splotches
of what I hoped was dried food.
The skin of his hands, his forearms,
his exposed shins, seemed dangerously thin,
these immovable limbs alien to him,
just dead weight attached to his skull
like some kind of medieval torture device,
covered in scrapes and seeping wounds
he was incapable of sensing at all.

I don’t know what accident
or twist of fate’s unmerciful knife
imprisoned him here,
but when I input his name
into our database, I found
he had been caught working this charade
multiple times at multiple stores,
and I had to wonder
how many people he had convinced
to simply let him go,
this poor shell of a man,
just using the gifts he had been given,
a slug of a con
no doubt believing
he was only taking
what he was owed.

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